I think there should be a word to describe someone who’s more than an acquaintance but not quite a friend.
Friends are the people you talk to on the phone, and invite into your home. Friends have you over for dinner. Or lunch. Or no reason. Friends send you emails. They might even remember your birthday.
Acquaintances have names and faces that you recognize, but the only things you know about them are what other people have told you. Most of the time they don’t even rate a Christmas card.
I’m not sure what’s in between. “Friendly acquaintance” doesn’t quite do it for me. Maybe “casual friend”? Whatever the word or phrase should be, Will Shaw was it.
I’d never invited Will to my house, and I had no clue about his birthday. But I could make a pretty good guess what year he was born because we graduated high school together. And I knew quite a bit about him—stuff he told me himself. Because we did talk. But we only talked on the road in front of his house, when I happened to be driving past.
After high school, Will had studied photography in New York, while I got my teaching degree at a state college. He eventually came back home, moving into his parents’ old farmhouse after they retired to Florida. Will didn’t talk much about his photography, but the word around town was that he did quite well with it, selling his prints through a major gallery, wherever that was. We didn’t have a “major” anything in our little neck of the woods.
I never saw Will in his studio, although he sometimes had a camera or two slung around his neck when I’d see him outside his house. Now and then I’d take the back way home from school to buy eggs down the road from Will’s place, and if I saw him outside I’d stop to say hi.
“How’s life in second grade, Molly?” he often asked.
“Noisy,” I sometimes replied. Or “Sweet,” if we had celebrated a holiday involving candy. (When you teach second grade you learn that almost all holidays involve candy.)
On this particular day, I answered, “Chaotic.” School was one day away from breaking for summer vacation, and second-graders weren’t noted for their patience.
“What do you have going on this summer?” Will asked, leaning on the shovel he’d been using to dig a hole.
“Nothing much, really,” I said. “I need to work on my house . . . get rid of some clutter . . . paint the shed . . . tend to the garden. Grow more flowers. The usual.”
“And then there’s your annual stack of summer reading,” he said.
I laughed. “Yes, there’s always that.” I wasn’t sure why, but I was pleased that he remembered.
“How about you?” I asked.
“Nothing too exciting,” he said. “Except for the new lens I got this week—I’m excited about that. I’ve been out every morning photographing dewdrops.” He grinned.
“Yup, dewdrops. You’d be amazed at how they look close up. Perfectly round and sparkling. Like tiny crystal balls. Except when I blow up the prints to 11x14 or so, they’re not so tiny anymore.”
He added, “You should see them.”
“I’d love to.”
It was true. I’d often thought about asking to see his work, but I didn’t want him to think I was inviting something more. I remembered those old stories where lecherous men invited young women to “come up and see my etchings.”
I thought Will might take the opportunity to invite me in, but he didn’t. Instead, he changed the subject.
“Did you hear George Kinkade got married?”
I remembered George from high school: A tall, thin geek, intense about his schoolwork. “No, I didn’t hear that. Who’d he marry?”
“No one we know,” Will said. “He imported her from Rhode Island. Probably someone he met in college.”
“I did hear that Joanie Klein and Bruce Altman got married, though. And Denise and Ray.”
“Denise and Ray, who need no last names,” he said, smiling.
“I know. It’s been Denise-and-Ray ever since 8th grade.”
I remembered someone else. “Oh, and just the other day I heard Cheryl Matthews got engaged to Ted McAllister. I wonder if some of our classmates are rushing to get married before they turn 30.”
“How about you?” Will asked. He had dropped the shovel and was leaning against my car.
“Me? I have a good eight months to go before I turn 30.”
“That’s not what I meant,” he said. “Do you have any marriage plans?
“Marriage plans?” I asked, startled. “Who would I marry.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s what I thought you’d tell me.”
I laughed, a little nervously. “Nope,” I said. “No plans and no guy.”
I tried to turn the conversation back to him. “What about you? Are you planning a trip down the aisle?”
But he ignored my attempt, and said, “I seem to remember that you’ve been courted.”
“Courted? That’s a rather old-fashioned word. I wouldn’t say the guys I’ve dated were courting. ‘Storming the gates’ was more like it.”
Will grinned at me. “That sounds subtle.”
“And accurate,” I said, “which probably explains why I haven’t dated anyone for quite a while.”
I turned the key in the ignition, and the engine started up. “Gotta go home and get started on my end-of-the-year paperwork,” I said. He stepped back from the car and gave me a short wave.
The following Monday I indulged myself by sleeping in until 8:00 a.m. I came downstairs, made myself a cup of tea, and brought it out to the front porch, where I found a large flat object wrapped in brown paper leaning against a chair. I put down my tea and removed the paper. It was a framed print of a stunning photograph: dewdrops—perfectly round and glittering in the sun—resting on the edge of a leaf.
Later that morning, a floral delivery van pulled into my driveway. The driver came to the house and handed me a huge bouquet covered in crisp white tissue. In the kitchen, I carefully unwrapped it. Roses—white and peach and apricot—mixed with lilies, daisies, and wildflowers. It was enchanting.
I removed the small envelope, almost afraid to open it. I didn’t want to be disappointed. Only one word was written on the card, and it wasn’t signed. But I wasn’t disappointed at all. The card read, Courting.